Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Hate Using the Word “Energy”, from Dadaism to South Park

12 [Gapnu] (month), Shanatu 84 (year)

Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel, 1951.
Is it the "positive space" of the bicycle wheel and the stool
that constitutes art, or is it the "negative space"
of the openness of the items or the shadows they create?
I have a personal vendetta against using the word “energy.” It has become meaningless for its hair-pulling ambiguity and over-use.

I’ve seen people use the word “energy” to describe any and all of these topics, in no particular order:

Potential energy, kinetic energy, electricity, vitality, appetite, soul, sexuality, strength, health, ambiance of a location whether good or bad, place memory, object memory, spirits of the dead and ghosts, leadership, divine aid, deities themselves, physical states, mental states, negative energy...


...positive  energy, protons or electrons, gravity, magnetic fields, force, personal magnetism, charisma, beneficence, malevolence, violence or harm, healing or restoring, orderliness, disarray or chaos, temper, humor, mood, universe, existence, non-existence, meditative states, magic, chemistry (either actual or figurative), focus, concentration, discipline, movement, ability, power, impulse, attraction, heat, vibration, light...and even more...

Just look at this amazing list of over fifty ideas!

The word “energy” has become a catch-all. I’ve noticed that in magic and in New Age spirituality, the word has come to imply a type of current, force, or vague natural resource in the universe that one can tap according to one’s will and ability. In this case, a charash, a Canaanite magician, doesn’t even use “energy” at all.

I used to employ the word “energy” to describe the forces I worked with, as well as chiefly to describe ambiance, place and object memory, physical vitality, and a few other concepts until I realized that the word itself didn’t accurately express anything.  In writing The Horned Altar: Rediscovering Canaanite Magic (due for release through Llewellyn Publications in April of 2013) I realized the word’s uselessness  for describing magical and spiritual concepts. In looking for better terminology, I realized that the word “energy” as used by New Agers in the ballpark definition above, was a different beastie altogether than the forces employed in charshu, Canaanite magic. I ended up only using the Ʃ-word about six to seven times in the entire manuscript, and only to describe why the forces a charash, a Canaanite magician, works with do not qualify as “energy” in the typical New Age sense.

Any one of these words in the list above is more descriptive, useful, and communicative. Instead of the word “energy,” you could substitute the word “dada” and be nearly as descriptive. The artists of the Dadaist movement would find that fitting. 


Frankly the "energy"-word is as useful for communication as a bicycle wheel on a stool is for transportation.

There’s an episode of South Park that demonstrates ridiculous overuse of a word. In the episode, aliens use the word “marklar” to mean nearly any and everything, especially at the end of the episode. (And of course, one of my favorite South Park quotes comes from this episode: “No, no, no. We don’t eat the Bibles; we read them.”)

Consider this situation for a moment. You’re on a paranormal investigation. You say,“Your home has poor ambiance. The location here has bad place-memory: perhaps a violent event took place here.” Now try “Your house has bad energy.” Notice how the description in the first sentence immediately tells the home owner exactly what’s wrong, and by “diagnosing” and describing the situation more accurately you have empowered both yourself and the home owner to remedy the situation. To boot, the first sentence also sounds educated, powerful, and confident. The second sentence is about as useful as saying, “Your house tastes bad.”

If you get the chance, try this exercise. List all the times you use the word “energy,” then look at the list above and see which word may more accurately describe what you’re trying to communicate. When you use the Ʃ-word, take a moment and think of which word you really mean. By using more descriptive and accurate words for “energy,” you may discover greater understanding and clarity, and more meaningful communication.

Photo notes: Photo from Olof Werngren through Creative Common License.

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